UN aid chief to visit Turkey and Syria to assess quake needs

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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday pushed for more humanitarian aid access to northwestern Syria from Turkey, saying he would be “very happy” if the United Nations could use more than one border crossing to deliver help after a deadly earthquake struck the region this week.

The Syrian government views the delivery of aid to the rebel-held northwest from Turkey as a violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Since 2014 the United Nations has had a UN Security Council mandate allowing it to reach millions of people in need in the area via one crossing.

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Speaking to reporters in New York, Guterres said now was the time to explore all possible avenues to aid and personnel into the area affected by the earthquake, which struck early on Monday morning and has killed at least 19,000 people in Turkey and Syria.

“Many non-UN relief agencies are already delivering through other crossings,” Guterres told reporters. “I will be very happy if, in relation to the UN, there will be the possibility to do it also in as many crossings as possible.”

Guterres did not say whether he has specifically asked the Syrian government to allow aid deliveries through more border crossings, but he did reference the 15-member UN Security Council’s ability to approve such a measure.

“It is obvious that we need massive support,” Guterres said. “I will be, of course, very happy if the Security Council could reach a consensus to allow for more crossings to be used.”

UN aid chief Martin Griffiths will visit Gaziantep in Turkey and Aleppo and Damascus in Syria this weekend to assess needs and see how the United Nations can step up support, Guterres said. UN aid delivery into northwestern Syria from Turkey resumed on Thursday after it was briefly halted by the earthquake.

Syria’s UN Ambassador Bassam Sabbagh did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Guterres’s remarks.

The Syrian government has long said that more aid can be delivered across front lines from within the country. Opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad fear that food and other aid delivered from within Syria could fall under government control.

UN aid from Turkey served 2.7 million people in northwestern Syria a month last year compared with 43,500 people a month who received aid from routes within Syria since August 2021.

The UN Security Council first authorized a cross-border aid operation into Syria in 2014 at four points in Turkey, Iraq and Jordan. By 2020 it reduced that access to the single crossing used now due to opposition from Russia and China, which backed Assad’s argument for aid deliveries from within Syria.

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